Sexism and Gendered Violence at work is preventable and can be eliminated

27-Oct-2017 For too long women, and some men too, have had to put up with a workplace culture that’s sexist and demeaning. Everyday sexism creates an environment where women feel uncomfortable and are excluded or undermined in the workplace. It can lead to significant physical and psychological injury to women workers.

ASMOF is committed to recognising sexism and gendered violence for the serious health and safety issue it is, and eliminating all forms of sexism at work. 

ASMOF is committed to making workplaces safe for all working people.

The Stop Gendered Violence at Work Report released in November 2016 highlighted the extent to which cultures of sexism and gender inequality were impacting on women’s safety and health at work. And this week the Male Champions of Change released a report to assist workplaces to eliminate everyday sexism. We Set the Tone notes many people struggle to understand why this issue is important and explains why we should all care about eliminating everyday sexism.

“We would all like to think that we have an environment that is respectful and inclusive, that gender is never a limiting factor, and when issues arise people feel at ease to talk about them. The reality is there is an undercurrent of behaviour that perceives and treats women differently. It often masquerades as a joke. So common in some organisations, this behaviour has become an accepted part of navigating workplace dynamics,” argue the Male Champions of Change.

In the words of one survey respondent: “I want to go to work, do my job and go home to my family. I don’t want to be reluctant to go to work and be made to feel uncomfortable while I am there.”

Everyday sexism includes jokes or inappropriate comments based on gender stereotypes. Sometimes they’re thoughtless, but most often they’re deliberately designed to put someone in their place. The cumulative effect of every single one of these instances is very powerful. It plays a major role in deciding who’s chosen for a new job, who’s paid more and who’s given opportunities in a workplace.

This causes harm to all staff, not just women, including impeding women’s career progression and preventing men from equally engaging in child rearing.
When a woman is quizzed about her family plans or childcare arrangements in a job interview, it’s everyday sexism and its illegal.
In July this year we became aware that female doctors were being asked about family plans during job interviews. We have also heard stories of female doctors being told not to dare get pregnant or that jobs were "conditional" on not getting pregnant and even job offers being revoked (or attempted to be) after reporting pregnancy.

These concerns resulted in the NSW Health Secretary writing to all Chief Executives of the Local Health Districts and Specialty Networks insisting that they must eliminate these unacceptable practices where they exist. And reminding them of the need to model appropriate behaviour and actively building equity, diversity and fairness.

There are also deep structural barriers that perpetuate sexism. The most obvious is the poor parental leave provisions across NSW Health. The relatively low quantum of 14 weeks paid leave is limited to the birth mother. This put NSW Health behind many other organisations, both public and private, which provide much better parental entitlements.

For example, the University of NSW provides up to 36 weeks paid parental leave which may be taken by either parent. This is a legal entitlement in an enforceable collective agreement.
The benefits of a workplace without sexism are significant, including broadening of the talent pool and harnessing a more diverse range of views that modern workplaces require to achieve success.

So how does sexism manifest in the day-to-day of a contemporary workplace? The We Set the Tone report outlines what it sees as the six main ways:
  1. Insults masquerading as jokes – people need to think twice before making remarks and jokes based on gender — they usually are sexist.
  2. Devaluing women’s views or voice. Again, men should think before they act. Why do you need to interrupt a woman in a meeting? Do you need to explain that information to her? Why didn’t you agree with her until your male colleague said the same thing? Why did you presume the guy was in charge?
  3. Role stereotyping.
  4. Preoccupation with physical appearance. This includes comments about body shape, size, physical characteristics and clothing. Opinions or comments by others about any of these things are sexist.
  5. Assumptions that caring and careers don’t mix. Having kids or caring for family members have no bearing on a person’s ability to further their career. Equally, a person does not have to explain their decision not to have children to you. Assumptions based on caring responsibilities impact both men and women and are sexist.
  6. Unwarranted gender labelling. My manager Jenny is so bossy. My manager John is very assertive. These sentences mean the same thing but only one is positive.
The report includes a range of case studies of what different workplaces are doing to stamp out sexism, and outlines three steps organisations can take themselves:
  • Everyone needs to know what they are dealing with, including understanding what sexism looks like in their workplace and the impact it has on both staff and the organisation.
  • Everyone needs to find ways to get their colleagues to see and acknowledge sexism. This includes challenging entrenched attitudes and processes that enable sexism to exist.
  • Everyone, but especially leaders, needs to set the tone by creating a workplace where staff are empowered to call out sexism when they see it.
As leaders, our members can set the tone in our hospitals and together you can take a stand to eliminate sexism in the workplace.